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What Did I Miss in Washington? April 17-May 1, 2017

May 1, 2017

The steady stream of news emerging from the nation’s capital can be overwhelming. NACUBO highlights key actions and provides the status of top higher education business officer concerns.

On Capitol Hill

Labor Secretary Confirmation. With a bipartisan vote of 60-38, the Senate confirmed Alexander Acosta as secretary of labor on Thursday, April 27.

Federal Government Shutdown Averted. On Friday, April 28, Congress approved a one-week continuing resolution (CR) for FY17 appropriations. On Sunday, April 30, congressional leaders reached a larger deal on a spending measure to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year (September 30). This proposed omnibus appropriations bill includes the restoration of year-round Pell eligibility, despite some cuts to the Pell Grant Program’s surplus. Additionally, the bill calls for increased funding to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. To take effect, the deal must be passed by the House and Senate and signed by President Donald Trump by Friday, May 5.

House Hearing Focuses on Accreditation. The House Education and the Workforce committee held a hearing on April 27 to examine the accreditation system and identify ways to improve accountability in higher education. Witnesses included Mary Ellen Petrisko, president, WASC Senior College and University Commission; George Pruitt, president, Thomas Edison State University; Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education, Center for American Progress; and Michale McComis, executive director, Accreditation Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

Democratic Lawmakers Object to ED Loan Servicing Memos. In April, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos withdrew three loan servicing guidance memos originally issued during President Barack Obama’s administration that intended to improve loan servicing for borrowers by imposing greater transparency and communication requirements on government-contracted independent servicers. More than 130 Democratic lawmakers wrote to DeVos urging her to reverse this action.

Administrative Actions

Tax Reform Proposal Released. Last week, the Trump administration issued a one-page tax proposal outline that would double the standard deduction, effectively lowering the number of filers who itemize their returns. Many nonprofit organizations are concerned about the potential impact on charitable giving.

Executive Order Calls for H-1B Visa Program Reform. In an April 18 executive order, "Buy American and Hire American," Trump singled out the H-1B Visa Program for reform, calling for the visas for foreign nationals to only be awarded to highly skilled and highly paid individuals.

ED Proposed SFA Audit Requirement Delayed Until FY18. Last year, the Department of Education planned to pursue an annual audit mandate of Student Financial Assistance programs for FY17 as part of the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) 2017 Compliance Supplement. NACUBO and other higher education associations expressed concern that such a requirement would be in direct conflict with the Single Audit Act Amendments of 1996 and the more recent Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards.

ED now has announced that no such guidance has made it into the FY17 Compliance Supplement but  plans to include it in the FY18 guidance. ED’s August 2016 announcement indicated that institutions should contact their School Participation Division if their auditor, in following previous OMB guidance, made a determination that their Student Financial Assistance program cluster was low risk. This guidance will now stand for FY17 audits as well.

ED Issues FAFSA Verification Guidance. Last month, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) suspended the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) following concerns of identity theft and tax return fraud. On April 24, ED published guidance on FAFSA verification requirements. In lieu of using the DRT, “Dear Colleague Letter” GEN-17-04 states that “institutions may consider a signed paper copy of the 2015 IRS tax return that was used by the tax filer for submission to the IRS as acceptable documentation” to verify tax return information.

Judicial Action

D.C. Circuit Court Affirms Decision to Keep CFPB Out of the Accreditation Process. In affirming a decision of the D.C. federal district court, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) could not enforce a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) issued to the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). While there was discussion in the district court as to whether the CFPB has the authority to investigate accrediting agencies, the Court of Appeals failed to address that larger question in its decision. The court based its ruling solely on the fact that the CID, in this particular case, “inadequately” stated the unlawful conduct that brought ACICS under investigation.

Awaiting Action

Overtime Rule. There are no significant developments to report on the status of the Department of Labor overtime rule; now that Labor Secretary Acosta has been sworn in, however, this is expected to be addressed swiftly as it’s a priority of both the Trump administration and Acosta himself.

1098-T Reporting. The IRS has not yet issued final regulations on 1098-T reporting following its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that calls for significant reporting changes to the form.

Advocacy

Advocates in Action. Community college chief business officers are encouraged to consider participating in the American Association of Community College’s (AACC) new two-day public policy and advocacy event, Advocates in Action, in Washington, D.C., June 12-13. The program is designed to strengthen and leverage your relationships with your congressional delegation. Speakers include Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), chair of the House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education and Workforce Education, and David Wessel of the Brookings Institution.

ENERGY STAR Program Threatened. NACUBO is closely following efforts to ensure the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program is not eliminated, as proposed in Trump’s budget request for FY18. The program was developed in 1992 to reduce energy consumption in both residential and commercial structures by having products and buildings evaluated, approved, and certified by an independent third party. Many institutions of all types use this third-party evaluation certification in their procurements to ensure products will deliver the optimum energy efficiency.

Contact

Liz Clark
Director, Federal Affairs
202.861.2553
E-mail